In the first chapter of Nehemiah, we read a prayer that Nehemiah offers to God for the Israelites. It is a beautiful prayer that petitions the mercy and grace of God to the unfaithfulness of the Israelites. Nehemiah believes that God will do amazing things and wants for the Israelites to be part of God’s work. But it is the description of Nehemiah, given after the prayer, that has always been curious to me:
“At the time, I was cupbearer to the king.” (Nehemiah 1:11)
When I first read this many years ago, my first thought was, “Why does Nehemiah feel it is necessary to tell us he was a cupbearer? It seems like a lowly position.” But I was wrong. To be a cupbearer was a prominent position. A cupbearer was an officer of high rank at ancient oriental courts, whose duty it was to serve the wine at the king’s table. On account of the constant fear of plots and intrigues, a person must be regarded as thoroughly trustworthy to hold this position. Given what we know of Nehemiah’s financial stability, we can assume a cupbearer was a pretty lucrative position as well.
But Nehemiah makes this statement not to proudly announce his position in the kingdom of Artaxerxes (king of Persia during the time of Nehemiah); Nehemiah makes this statement as his intention in the kingdom of God. Nehemiah is prepared to give up himself in obedience to God. He is prepared to leave behind the comforts of his lifestyle to serve God and be part of God’s restorative work in Jerusalem. Just as Nehemiah was announcing his current role as cupbearer to the king, Nehemiah was also announcing his intention to be a cupbearer to God.
There is an art to being a cupbearer. A cupbearer must know how the cup is to be filled and to whom the cup should be carried. What if we were to see ourselves as cupbearers? In our Sacrament of Communion, we proclaim the words of Christ, “This is the cup of my blood poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” As followers of Christ, I believe we have a mission to be cupbearers for Christ in this world – offering Christ’s love and forgiveness to those whom God loves.
Later this month, we will begin a four-week teaching series on Nehemiah called Focus. In this series, we will study Nehemiah’s story as we discern our own story. Nehemiah played a part in God’s restoration of Jerusalem because he was faithful and obedient to God. As we look at the part we can play in God’s work on earth today, I pray that you will consider how you can be a cupbearer for God’s Kingdom.
Have a wonderful October and I look forward to being with you at Royston First UMC!
In Service Together,